'An incredibly challenging time': officials learn from Misericordia outbreak as hospital begins reopening

As the Misericordia hospital reopens following the end of a COVID-19 outbreak, officials are developing recommendations from the experience to deal with future outbreaks in the province and treatment for patients.

Recommendations being created based on outbreak experience

Covenant Health's chief medical officer, Dr. Owen Heisler, speaks to reporters on Monday. (Art Raham/CBC)

As the Misericordia Community Hospital reopens following the end of a COVID-19 outbreak, officials say they are taking lessons from the experience in how to deal with the disease in Alberta.

Representatives from Covenant Health and Alberta Health Services provided an update Monday on the next steps for the west-Edmonton hospital as it moves through a phased reopening that began on Friday.

"We've really made an effort in multiple different ways to learn from this and share that elsewhere," Covenant Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Owen Heisler told reporters.

"But as this has moved forward, it's been an incredibly challenging time for us all."

The hospital closed its doors to incoming patients on July 8 in response to a "full-facility outbreak." Patients in the hospital continued to receive treatment while those with scheduled day procedures were rebooked or taken to other Edmonton zone hospitals. 

On Friday, AHS and Covenant declared the outbreak was over.

Heisler credited the media and Alberta's chief medical officer of health for keeping the public informed and being part of a collective effort underscoring the need for masks and physical distancing.

"I think you just need to look in other jurisdictions to see how we in Alberta have done well."

Dr David Zygun, AHS Edmonton zone medical director, stressed that COVID-19 is still a problem in Alberta.

"We need to maintain our vigilance through our institutions," he said

Recommendations are now being crafted to deal with several problem areas identified during the outbreak, including staffing pressures, personal protective equipment, and wandering patients.

Inpatient units, including neonatal intensive care, are beginning to accept new patients. People with postponed or upcoming appointments and surgeries will be contacted for rescheduling.

Zygun said service levels would gradually increase with careful monitoring to get back to pre-outbreak activity. 

"Over the next couple of weeks, we'll slowly ramp up the ambulatory activity, the surgical activity and all the other activities that are needed," he said.

In total, 58 cases of COVID-19 and 11 deaths were linked to the outbreak at the Misericordia.

The Misericordia has reported no new cases of COVID-19 since July 17. (CBC)

Heisler said the outbreak demonstrated "just how nasty and indolent" the coronavirus can be.

"Our teams, we hope, are empowered by knowing that we've done a lot of stuff, they've worked with each other, and we got through it with everybody looking after each other, as I think Alberta's getting through this."

Heisler said the Grey Nuns Community Hospital in southeast Edmonton is currently treating patients with the disease. 

"We're extremely cautious," he said. "There's going to be sick people that get COVID in the community, we need to bring them in for care."

The hospital had not declared an outbreak as of Alberta Health's COVID-19 update on Monday.